Screening for Anal Cancer: What’s Your Risk?

Friday, March 28, 2014 - 12:06pm
Assistant Professor of Oncology, Department of Surgical Oncology

Farrah Fawcett’s death in 2009 catapulted anal cancer into the public light, but prior to that devastating news, it’s a disease you didn't hear much about. While it is rare, anal cancer is on the rise with an estimated 7,060 new cases and causing 880 deaths in 2013 alone.

With March being Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve been emphasizing the importance of screening for colorectal cancer with colonoscopy. However, there is currently no such standard screening test for anal cancer.

Despite this, we do know that some patients are at higher risk for developing the disease. These groups include: immunocompromised patients, such as those with HIV; gay men; and women who have a history of pre-cancer or cancer of the vagina, vulva or cervix. These groups may all benefit from a high-risk screening program like the one we have at Roswell Park.

The majority of anal cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the same virus that often is the cause of cervical cancer. Screening for cervical cancer through pap smears has reduced the incidence of that disease by more than 500 percent in the past few decades. We believe similar kinds of screening methods can do the same for prevention of anal cancer.

We know that screening works, especially for colorectal cancers. One of the largest studies of colorectal cancer screening, called the National Polyp Study, showed that patients who undergo a colonoscopy and removal of polyps, especially those that are pre-cancerous, can reduce their risk of colorectal cancer mortality by 53 percent.

If you are concerned about your risk of anal cancer, or simply have questions, please give us a call at 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) to request a consultation or fill out the Become a Patient form online. We are here for you at any time, and look forward to helping you or someone you love.